Seeing as we missed this class due to the Mama Event, (a great cause no doubt) I figured I’d take matters into my own hands and learn/blog about something I’m personally interested in. Maybe those of us who were in Paris can get the gist of what we missed.
First things first. Not common to popular belief, lawyers are wonderful, compassionate and charitable people in the music industry. I’m not very good at being sarcastic in writing yet but nonetheless, I suppose that could be true if personal incentives aren’t taken into consideration. Unfortunately, we live in a time where these bastards are truly needed in practically every aspect of an artists career, (and anyone else in the industry for that matter) and boy do they know it. I say unfortunately because this makes them extremely valuable and necessary and it always sucks to be that dependent on something. Even so, what is always important to remember is that the lawyer works for the artist, not the other way around.
With that out of the way, the point is that hopefully after reading this you won’t be able to justify their existence, but rather you will definitely be able to understand their purpose. How’s that? Off we go!
What does a lawyer do?
The most obvious role of the lawyer is to be involved anywhere that an artist is potentially generating income. And anywhere an artist is potentially generating income, there will be a contract or an agreement needed. And when a contract or an agreement is needed a lawyer should be involved. So as you can see from the lovely circle of reasoning here, they exist because they are needed and they are needed because they exist.
Other than negotiating contracts and working with you and literally every other member of your team they (the good ones) also act as reliable A&R persons for labels. Lawyers are involved with everyone in the industry, so they know everyone in the industry, and that means they have some clout that, in the early stages at least, the artist probably doesn’t. A good lawyer promotes the acts that he/she truly believes in, to the labels and actually wants them to be successful. Why do they do this? Quite simply because the more successful the artist, the more successful the lawyer. In other words they want the artist to do good, so they can make more money from them. Labels know this so it is easy for them to seriously consider the acts recommended by lawyers. Lawyers won’t just submit any shitty band to a label because that devalues their judgement in the eyes of the label. If a lawyer only submits artists that truly have potential, the label will love them and take every recommendation seriously.
The lawyer can also play an active role in putting together an artists’ business team which brings us to the next point.
When is a lawyer necessary?
Many people think (at least I did) that lawyers don’t come into play until much later down the road in an artists career but that isn’t necessarily the case. Lawyers can be an important member of the band’s team during it’s initial formation (so basically, when the band should be dealing with the band agreement).
Furthermore, since lawyers have so many connections it is often the case that a band hires a lawyer before they even have a manager, let alone any other member of their team. Hiring a lawyer before agreements with these members even exist makes sense because a lot of the time it can be the lawyer that finds the manager, agent, business manager, and so on for the artist in the first place. Look at it this way, an ethical label won’t let an artist sign without a lawyer. Even if you have a manager, but no lawyer, they won’t sign you. And if they do they are probably assholes that are trying to take advantage of you in a deal, so be wary of that if you are an artist.
Alright, we have established that it can be a good idea for an artist to hire a lawyer early in their careers. But good lawyers have the power to be selective. So in a weird way in order for the artist to have a good lawyer, they need to deserve one. Because of the role that lawyers play in A&R the good lawyer must be interested in the band, as I mentioned earlier, he/she must believe in the bands potential and work ethic. This means that once the artist has some stable ground under them in terms of songs written, demos recorded, and a small promo package, it can be a great time to get a great lawyer. I know this sounds contradicting to the statement of getting them as early as the band agreement, but you can always hire a lawyer on an hourly basis to deal with the band agreement, and have no other involvement with the band until the band feels they are ready enough to go for a great lawyer, or at least hire one full time.
How can an artist find a great lawyer?
The simple answer is look for one. Talk to local bands that seem to have their shit together. Find a band that you like and look inside their album to find a name that has ‘Esq.’ after it. Look for them online as there are several legal directories available. Most importantly, interview them. Ask them what experience they have in the music industry specifically, and if they foresee any conflicts of interest with other clients. Finally ask them how, and how much they bill you. Which leads us to the final part.
How does a lawyer get paid?
This is one aspect where they can get just as creative as any of the artists they are signing! I’ll briefly and simply try to outline the four main ways they like to take their money.
Hourly – usually $150-$600 per hour. The extremely expensive ones are usually only dealing with big acts and even bigger labels.
Percentage – 5%-10% of income generated from the deal they worked on/negotiated. When dealing with percentages the lawyer takes the money from the net artist share, not the gross money received. ***This type of billing is very common. It can technically be paid by the label through the artists’ personal advance; which makes it recoupable against artist royalties.
Hybrid – At first they charge a (relatively) low hourly fee and then take a percentage later once things get going. I recommend this way ideally, for a beginning act.
Value-Billing – This one is pretty abstract. It is based on this: the more “value” the lawyer helped you get in a deal, the more they get paid.
At they end of the day it all comes down to the fact that the more money the artist is making, the more money the lawyer is making.
It is in the best interest of the artist to have the same lawyer for as much of their career as possible. You get to know them and yes, can eventually build trust. As an artist always remember the lawyer works for you, and at the end of the day they can be the only ones who can save your ass. Anyways, I hope you learned something from this post.
Love them or hate them, lawyers are not going anywhere fast and they play a massive and distinctly important role in the careers of anyone and everyone involved in the music industry.
Sources and Further Reading:
All you need to know about the music industry by Donald Passman.